September 28, 2008. A revision of the original article of August 2006.
In his first cabinet, Motlanthe has replaced controversial health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Manto has maintained a questionable relationship with AIDS dissidents during her tenure and was particularly castigated for apparently claiming that a balanced diet could counter the effects of AIDS. The allegations culminated in suggestions that Manto’s solution for the AIDS pandemic was sweet potatoes (yams) rather than ARV drugs. Many South Africans have expressed dismay at Manto’s handling of the AIDS crisis in South Africa and have called for her head for a long time.
At the International Aids Conference in Toronto, Canada, 13-18 August 2006, a group of Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) activists occupied the garlic, lemon and beetroot-stocked South African exhibit, with some lying on the ground to symbolise the dead.
“Fire Manto now,” they chanted as passersby gathered to see what was going on. “How many lemons are you going to eat when your CD4 count drops below 200?” shouted a woman. They charged that South Africa’s Aids response was “the worst response in the world to the epidemic and not the most comprehensive”.
Health ministry spokesperson Sibani Mngadi accused TAC national manager Nathan Geffen of “making abusive utterances” and threatening government officials and the Khomanani service providers running the stand.
Condemning the “intolerance” of TAC supporters, Mngadi called on its leaders to take appropriate action to deal with their disruptive, abusive and threatening behaviour. “They have a duty to protect the integrity of our democratic country by taking strong action against the intolerant behaviour of the members of their organisation and damage to government property.” (Read the SABC report.)
I am regularly asked why I blog against religion when there are so many “other injustices” wanting criticism.
Richard Dawkins (in the chapter entitled “What’s wrong with religion? Why be so hostile?” of his book The God Delusion) speaks elegantly to the point: “I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect.”
I do not distinguish between “extremist” or “fundamentalist” religion and… so-called “church-going, soup kitchen volunteering, gospel singing” religion. Faith is evil. Point.
Dawkins continues: “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them – given certain other ingredients that are not hard to come by – to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads or crusades.”
Sam Harris speaks of “concentric circles of diminishing reasonableness” – covering the complete spectrum of belief from the bloodied hub where suicide bombers and perpetrators of “preventative violence” consume hearts with fear and revulsion, along the radius of orthodox eisegesis and gay bashers and evangelical zeal to the outer rim of tolerant liberals and moderates:
“The problem is that wherever one stands on this continuum, one inadvertently shelters those who are more fanatical than oneself from criticism. Ordinary fundamentalist Christians, by maintaining that the Bible is the perfect word of God, inadvertently support the Dominionists – men and women who, by the millions, are quietly working to turn our country into a totalitarian theocracy reminiscent of John Calvin’s Geneva. Christian moderates, by their lingering attachment to the unique divinity of Jesus, protect the faith of fundamentalists from public scorn. Christian liberals – who aren’t sure what they believe but just love the experience of going to church occasionally – deny the moderates a proper collision with scientific rationality. And in this way centuries have come and gone without an honest word being spoken about God in our society.”
My condemnation of religion sees me accused of intolerance on a daily basis. In October 2006, a senior editor of the Cape based Afrikaans Daily Die Burger wrote me: “It is probably your right to be a militant atheist, but I object to your extreme intolerance!”
He says I’m intolerant like it’s a bad thing!
Should disease be tolerated? War? “Terrorism” – the war waged by the enemy? Crime? Racism? Sexism? Pollution? Drugs? Unsafe sex?
Of course not!
Can these banes be obliterated? The task is daunting. The task seems insurmountable. Is it therefore acceptable to look the other way?
Of course not!
Regular international conferences are held to address the problems of our world: disease, war, terrorism, crime, racism, sexism, pollution, drugs, unsafe sex… religion?
Religion also should not be tolerated. At least not as a public ideology. Cherishing an imaginary friend may be a tolerable coping mechanism reserved for moments of extreme despair in the privacy of intimate disheartenment, albeit on the fringe of lunacy, but when such imaginary friend dictates decisions on foreign policy that lead to war, tolerance becomes irresponsible.
A respected correspondent frequently points out that the real problem humanity faces is the hunger for power. I concur; yet note that religion is a maximal lubricant for the multifactorial machinery of malevolence. Religion makes for intolerant, hierarchically minded people that will believe any old thing, indicated – even without pursuing the profane – by legions of denominational and sectarian throngs.
The American Democrat, William Fulbright, remarked, in a speech before the Senate (April 21, 1966), “… Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor… Once imbued with the idea of a mission, a great nation easily assumes that it has the means as well as the duty to do God’s work.”
To tolerate religion because it is not the exclusive vehicle of evil, identifies religion as a vessel of evil and denies us the opportunity to eliminate at least one known crucible of evil.
UN Ambassador for HIV/AIDS Steven Lewis accused the South African government of expounding theories “more worthy of a lunatic fringe than a concerned and compassionate state”, at the Toronto closing session in August 2006.
Lewis hauled the country over the coals in front of over 20 000 delegates during his address on the importance of treatment.
“Between 600 and 800 people a day die of HIV/Aids in South Africa. The government has a lot to atone for, and I am of the opinion they will never achieve redemption,” Lewis said to a deafening roar of applause from the audience.
The ANC earlier called statements made by Lewis during the conference “unacceptable”.
Lewis also mentioned the arrests of Zachie Achmat, the then Treatment Action Campaign leader, and 44 protesters who occupied provincial government offices in Cape Town.
They were calling for the arrest of Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the health minister, after the death of a prisoner with Aids, which Lewis said “should never have taken place”.
South Africa’s HIV/Aids policies have featured prominently at the HIV/Aids conference, with activists strongly condemning the health minister’s advocating nutrition as a prevention method.
Mark Wainberg, the co-chair of the Aids conference, called the theories “scientific nonsense” and said it was unconscionable to use “lemon juice as an HIV-prevention method.” (Read the SABC2 report.)
But Lewis cut to the chase when he remarked that “Manto goes too far, Manto loses control of logic. So nutrition, which start as a legitimate concern, is suddenly transformed into an alternative for ARVs. This simply doesn’t wash anywhere, it’s nonsense.” (Morning Live News, SABC2, August 18, 2007, 07h00.)
Similarly the irrational acceptance of myth dares no longer impose on unwarranted protection under the roof of “freedom of religion”. It is time to say that irrational faith – a false conviction of baseless beliefs – is the single most grievous threat of our time. It is time to say so.
We all of us know this. We have all experienced this threat firsthand on that fateful day in September 2001 when the screams of “Allah Akbar” were drowned by the thunderous impact of passenger jets crashing into the Twin Towers. We have all of us lived the terror, immediate or threatening, of continuing mutual reactionary consequences, of “infidels”, on both sides of the divide, brutally murdered, of children bleeding to death in Afghanistan, of public unrest in protest of cartoons.
But it is preferable, required even; better, the done thing, to be tolerant, to grin and bear, rather than to affront a believer’s sentiment by a tart remark.
Shall we be tolerant? No, a thousand times no! It is feckless to be tolerant.
Politicians, as was Tshabalala-Msimang, are frequently subjected to vitriolic invective. On September 8, 2003 author Frederick Forsythe depicted Prime Minister Tony Blair as one who “lies as he breathes” in conversation with Gavin Esler on BBC’s HardTalk. Why then be mealy-mouthed about a nefarious ideology such as religion? Why should religion be allowed to perpetuate unperturbed while witting people tiptoe around ecclesiasticism and whisper the occasional alert designed not to pique believers, and especially clergy?
Former Guggenheim Fellow Wendy Kaminer remarks in Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials, “What’s striking about journalists and intellectuals today, liberals and conservatives alike, is not their mythic Voltairian skepticism but their deference to belief and utter failure to criticize, much less satirize, [this] romance with God.”
Religion is bunk and calling it for the idiocy it represents is reprehensibly overdue.
Extremism is the direct consequence of the passive longanimity, the tolerance, of “ordinary people” with nonsense – the tolerance of ordinary Doppers with synodial eisegesis on the role of women in the church; the tolerance of ordinary NGs with the eisegesis of the “Taakspan oor Homoseksualiteit” on gays; the tolerance of ordinary Moslems with faith based terror; the tolerance of ordinary Americans with George God-told-me-to-attack-Iraq Bush.
This tolerance, this undeserved tolerance, must end.
It is abundantly clear that religion cannot be tempered – simply tune to CNN. The virus religion must be obliterated. Point.
Can religion be destroyed?
Of course it can!
Us humans have overcome slavery, Nazism, Stalinism and Apartheid. Us humans have destroyed Ra and Zeus. Us humans can bury God.
Until such time, until the religion of George God-told-me-to-strike Bush and Osama fight-the-agents-of-the-devil bin Laden is in fact destroyed, until Crusades and Jihads and suicide bombings are the lunacy of the past, until the influence of gay bashing, condom rejection, race based congregations, unequal female rights and privileges and the dumbing down dynamic of absurd faith based traditions on developing young minds are ended, it will remain the obligation of rational people to indicate the malignant influence of religion.
Religion is the single most destructive force ever to debase humanity… a pernicious bane, an insidious hegemony, a grotesque pasquinade of insight, an egregious insult to intelligence and responsible for well-nigh all of human suffering.
Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was eventually fired. And none too soon. Irreparable damage was done on her watch. The tolerance with her idiotic garlic, lemon and beetroot solution was criminal and should never have been cultivated. Such tolerance is criminal. I can not stress this point enough.
Similarly, religion has failed mankind. The god-fearing has left mankind precariously perched on the precipice of catastrophe. The time is now for sentient beings to shed religion’s hegemony. Social dictates are to be purged of religious influence in the immediate term to give historically divergent peoples a reasonable chance at coexistence in the long term; to give ordinary people a better chance at life.
The time is now for rational people to be intolerant.